Digital Literacy Brings Hope to Women in Rural Haiti
Nancy Jean-Pierre speaking on the last day of her training on how much she’s learned.
The Haitian town of Dessalines sits in the middle of the country’s northern Artibonite Department. Spread out over 460 square kilometers the rural countryside around Dessalines is home to just over 12,000 people, as well as two of the 25 schools participating in a digital literacy program funded by the Intel Foundation. Launched by Inveneo and NetHope, Digital Literacy for Haiti Rebuilding (DLHR) offers basic computer training in Haitian communities like Dessalines and provides schools with the resources to continue the courses once the program ends. To date more than 500 people have taken part in the training, nearly 60 percent of whom have been women.
Nancy Jean-Pierre is one of these women. 20 years old, single and without children, Nancy was among the 27 attendees at the program’s first course given earlier this month at Institution Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 2012 the school received a solar-powered computer lab as part of Inveneo’s Haiti Connected Schools program and is one of the many sites that DLHR uses as community training centers.
Having not yet passed the state exams, Nancy’s still considered an 11th grade student.
“After I failed the baccalaureate last year,” Nancy said, “I felt ashamed and hopeless. I did not want to go back to school. I wanted to learn something to be my profession. I went to a computer course for several months but did not learn much because the school did not have computers for practice.”
“So when I learned about Inveneo coming to give a special course here in Dessalines, I did not want to miss it. I came and I have learned so much with the instructors that I feel I can teach now. I would have lost a big part of my life if I had missed this course. I will continue to learn computers and help others who do not know. And that will be my profession.”
Nancy believes technology has the power to change her own life as well as the lives of people in her community. Dessalines may by a rural farming center, but there is overwhelming interest in learning how to use computers and the Internet. Farmers and businesswomen alike have taken the course, wanting to stay current with technology to make sure they’re not left behind. They hope that their experience learning to use computers will open their eyes to better ways to do their jobs and run their businesses. Younger participants are considering entirely new career paths focusing on IT.
The standard computer course involves 24 hours of class time and covers computer fundamentals (mouse, keyboard, etc.) and the basics of Microsoft Word, email and the Internet. Two sections of twelve students each – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – ensure that 24 participants get hands-on training with computers throughout the entirety of each course.
Nancy receiving her certificate. From left: Rigaud Bel, Nancy Jean-Pierre, Michelet Guerrier
And while providing substantial benefit to participants, the courses are also proving to be economically sustainable. Attendees at Institution Jean-Jacques Rousseau paid 400 HTG, the equivalent of roughly US$10, for the full course. Future classes – which are already filling up – are being offered at 750 HTG. With the course fee that the schools collect, they can pay for trainers, Internet connectivity and ongoing maintenance of the lab.
Looking back at the training, Nancy feels she’s learned most of the important basics:
“I can type and format all kinds of texts. At least I can work as a typist now and I will make some money. I know how to do research on the Internet, which I think is very important for everyone because here we do not even have libraries. But with the Internet, we can find information about everything.
“For this reason, I am in this computer lab almost every day. Sometimes I stay here on the computer 3 or 4 hours a day to do typing exercises and research on the Internet. And with the Internet, email and Facebook, I am happy that I can connect with people everywhere. I am a member of a Facebook group that has many people with whom I can share everything I want. I love the Internet!”
Inspired by the patience and teaching skills of her instructors, Nancy offered to assist in future classes at Institution Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In response the school has agreed to hire her previous instructor and to bring Nancy on as an assistant. Nancy will have access to technology, mentorship of her instructors and the possibility of a small salary.
Rigaud Bel, one of the program’s community IT instructors, hopes to help Nancy develop the confidence needed to take over the course entirely, teaching future classes on her own.
Women like Nancy are inspiring examples of how DLHR is changing lives. With more than 500 past participants and another 200 women expected in the coming weeks, schools are looking to expand their programs to include courses in Microsoft Excel and advanced Internet usage.
With these skills women coming out of the program will be able to do more than simply compete in Haiti’s emerging job market. They’ll know they’re not alone, and they’ll be able to stay connected online where collaboration, sharing and learning continue to thrive.
Michelet Guerrier is a project manager for Inveneo working in Haiti.